DUP plan to restore Assembly rejected out of hand

Arlene Foster pledged to address language rights in return for Assembly restoration

DUP plan to restore Assembly rejected out of hand

DUP leader Arlene Foster speaking at a DUP event at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Belfast, ahead of the resumption of power-sharing talks next week, 31-08-2017. Image: Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 21:30

The DUP leader has called for devolved government to be restored in the North while negotiations on outstanding areas of disagreement continue.

Arlene Foster said that if the Stormont Assembly is restored she will bring forward proposals to address cultural and language issues within an agreed time frame.

She said that if those proposals were then rejected, the Executive would fall once again.

Within an hour of the speech, both Sinn Fein and the SDLP issued statements rejecting the plans.  

Sinn Féin's leader in the North Michelle O'Neill said "establishing an Executive that may collapse after a matter of months on the same issues will only fail all people."

“Let’s agree to quickly conclude talks on implementation and rights, that is the only way to build a sustainable Executive that will last,” she said.

Northern Ireland has been without a power-sharing government since the collapse of the Stormont Executive in January amid the scandal over the renewable heat incentive.

Support for devolution

Speaking to her party executive for the first time since the General Election this evening, Mrs Foster dismissed claims that the DUP did not want a return to devolution because of "the unprecedented position" it now finds itself in Westminster.

"The Democratic Unionist Party has always believed that Northern Ireland is best governed by a democratic, fair and accountable government comprising locally elected representatives," she said.

She claimed further prolonged negotiations to end the political stalemate in the North would be “little short of a waste of time” and warned that Northern Ireland cannot continue without its democratically elected leadership.

Immediate restoration

She said direct rule from London was inevitable if no agreement can be reached.

"I am proposing that we restore an Executive immediately," she said.

"Put ministers back into posts so that decisions can be made and that Northern Ireland can have a government again.

"We also agree to bring forward legislation to address culture and language issues in Northern Ireland within a time-limited period to be agreed.

"If we fail to do that in a way that commands cross-community support, then the Executive would cease to exist."

Irish Language Act

Yesterday Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams warned that there can be no resolution to the political deadlock in the North without Irish language rights.

The issue of a stand-alone act proved to be a sticking point between parties when talks broke down prior to the summer recess.

The introduction of an Acht na Gaeilge (Irish Language Act) was included in the St Andrew’s Agreement which was the basis for the restoration of devolution in the North in 2007.

Northern Ireland’s political parties joined the British and Irish governments in signing the agreement following extensive talks in Scotland.

Equality, respect and integrity

Earlier today, Sinn Féin’s leader in the North Michelle O’Neill rejected suggestions her party was not committed to the restoration of devolved government.

"In the Assembly election in March, people voted in the largest numbers since the Good Friday Agreement for the re-establishment of the political institutions on the basis of equality, respect and integrity,” she said.

"Sinn Fein stands ready to restore the Executive. The DUP and the two governments are well aware of what is required to do this.

"We need to see the implementation of outstanding agreements and an end to the denial of rights enjoyed by citizens everywhere else on these islands on language, marriage and access to coroner's courts."

The DUP and Sinn Fein had been sharing power for almost 10 years before the executive collapsed – prompting fresh elections.